Tag Archives: 68th (2nd Welsh) Division

Whither the Bedford Bard?

The previous post told the story of the reappearance of the bardic chair won by the Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins, a member of the 2/1st Welsh Casualty Clearing Station, Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division, for his poem on “A Soldier’s Life” at the Eisteddfod held on Easter Monday 1916 for the Welsh troops then stationed in Bedford.

What we wondered then had the future held for Private Alfred Jenkins when he moved on from Bedford. Sadly it was not good news, Alfred had been killed in action in France in September 1918.

Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins

He is remembered on the Bridgend War Memorial, and the details associated with him read “Jenkins, Alfred, Private 370129. Died 13/09/1918 aged 38. Royal Army Medical Corps. Buried Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery. Son of David and Mary Jenkins. B.A. (Hons). Minister of Presbyterian Church of Wales.”

The War Memorial, Bridgend

Alfred is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Pencoed, the family home.

The War Memorial, Pencoed 

There is more of the circumstances of his death in subsequent newspaper reports in October 1918 back home. A Scottish newspaper reported it briefly under the heading ”An Ideal Death”, which gives one pause for thought, and continued “Private the Rev. Alfred Jenkins B.A. Methodist, of Pencoed, South Wales, has been killed whilst rescuing a comrade.”

A hero’s death then. The information about his death, the Glamorgan Gazette recorded, reached his father in a letter written from the front by a friend, also a member of the RAMC, and a witness of the last sad scene.

Alfred had volunteered to accompany some stretcher bearers to bring in two wounded men. As they went forward they came under heavy shell fire. The letter writer made a dive for shelter and escaped. Alfred went on with utter disregard for the danger.

When his comrade looked back it was to see his friend lying dead with his hand grasping the stretcher.

Alfred was born in 1880 in Bridgend and received his early education there. He then joined his father’s business: David was widely known in the district as a monumental mason. Indeed in the 1901 Census Alfred is recorded as a stone mason and his father, now a widower his wife having died in October 1899, as a sculptor. Alfred’s two older brothers were also recorded as stone masons in the previous Census.

In the 1911 Census Alfred is a visitor, and a Calvinistic Methodist Student for Ministry, in the household of Edward Chapman, aged 59 and a coal miner, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, in Garndiffiath. Alfred had become a candidate for the ministry of the Calvinistic Methodists and trained at Trefecca College, near Talgarth, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons.

Trefecca College

Alfred interrupted his training to give himself to work in the slums of London, resident at the Mansfield College Settlement where, before leaving, he had been promoted to the office of sub-warden. During his residence in Canning Town he applied to the Council for permission to reside in a lodging house run by the Settlement and frequented by dockers. This step, the newspaper reported, was characteristic of the trend of a life ever lived to the service of God and man.

Alfred graduated with honours in philosophy from University College, Cardiff, but then his short theological course at Aberystwyth was interrupted by the war. He left to take up service with the YMCA, but longed to go to France and in Cardiff on 7 June 1915, aged 35 years, he enlisted in the 2/1st WCCS, RAMC.

To his dismay his unit was kept for a long period of duty in this country. But at last the hour he had longed for arrived, and he found himself in the country where “the great drama of war has had its principal scenes.” Alfred was at Bourlon Wood in 1917, according to The Aberdare Leader, and returned home for leave only some five or six months before returning to France “to find a soldier’s grave.”

           Alfred’s grave plot II B 3
in the Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery Extension

The Gazette concluded its report: “He was the soul of high loyalties, and his life was a life of fine chivalries. All that was mean and low was abhorrent to him. He was a knight-errant in quest of high adventure, not for its own sake nor his own sake, but for the sake of others.”

Father David, born in Bridgend, and mother Mary Ann, born in Middlesex, were living in Islington in 1871, David aged 28 and a stone mason, and Mary Ann aged 26. Their eldest child, a daughter Edith, was also born in Middlesex c1871. Their second child, son John Lewis, was born c1872 in Chicago, USA, but their next six children including William, some two years younger than John Lewis, and Alfred were all born in Bridgend. Some interesting family travels!

Alfred’s brother John Lewis Jenkins was also a Minister. His first office was as the Pastor at the Bethel Presbyterian Chapel, Cadoxton, serving for five years until July 1903 when he left to become the Pastor at Trinity Church, Aberdare. His farewell service in Cadoxton was attended by his father David of Pencoed. John Lewis started what proved to be “a powerful and uplifting ministry” at Trinity Church, and remained there until 1916 when he left for Liverpool.

Alfred had often officiated at his brother’s church in Aberdare and it was not long before he was killed that he had preached in khaki from the pulpit there.

A life well lived, but like so many cut short in a moment of self-sacrifice.

At the time of his death  Alfred was a member of the 230th Field Ambulance, RAMC, and he is buried in the Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery Extension close to the Great Cross, memorial reference II B 3, with an inscription “Until the day break and the shadows flee away”.


Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery and cemetery plan 

Alfred was awarded posthumously the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. His father, initially his next of kin as Alfred was single, had died in October 1919, and the medals issued in May 1922 were entrusted to his older brother, Reverend John Lewis Jenkins, still then in Liverpool.

What was the journey of Alfred’s bardic chair from its award in Bedford in April 1916 to its reappearance many decades later in an antique shop in Kent remains a mystery.

The action at Bourlon Wood, some 11 kms west of Cambrai, was part of the Battle of Cambrai in November/December 1917. Heavily involved in the fighting was the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division which had moved into Bedford in October 1916 after the Welsh divisions had departed, remaining until January 1917.

Villers-Faucon, some 28 kms to the south west of Cambrai, was almost totally destroyed in 1916. Following a withdrawal of German troops around the Hindenburg Line, villagers were evacuated to the north to Denain, tons of dynamite was set off around all the buildings, including the nearby sugar refinery at St Emilie and all the trees were cut down to leave the field open for approaching troops. The village was demolished but the cemetery was left untouched.

The village was captured in a snow storm by squadrons of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, 5th Cavalry Division, on 27 March 1917 in what was the Regiment’s last mounted charge. The village was later lost on 22 March 1918 but then retaken by III Corps, part of the Fourth Army, on 7 September 1918.

The Communal Cemetery contains the Commonwealth graves of soldiers who died in February to August 1917 or, in two cases, in September 1918, and also German graves. The adjoining Extension was begun in April 1917 and used until March 1918. It was then used by the Germans, and Commonwealth burials were resumed in September and October 1918. Further Commonwealth graves were brought in after the Armistice from a wide area around the village.

230th Field Ambulance was attached to the 74th (Yeomanry) Division formed in Palestine in January 1917 and taking part in actions there in Gaza and Jerusalem. In March 1918 the Division was notified it would be moving to France where it landed in May. It then had to train for the unfamiliar nature of warfare, including gas defence, on the Western Front where it arrived in July.

Given mounting casualties there was considerable movement of soldiers between units, indeed Alfred had previously been posted in the field on 28 June 1917 to the 100th Field Ambulance, then part of the  2nd Division. He was transferred again in the field to the 230th Field Ambulance on 1 July 1918.

Before then, Alfred had been posted to the Home Establishment on 18 March 1918 on admission to the Royal Herbert military hospital in Woolwich, whilst in the UK also receiving dental treatment. He spent time on home leave in Wales, as we saw, including preaching in his brother’s church in Aberdare, before leaving from Southampton on 15 June 1918 to return to France, the country he has never left.

Alfred’s service record does not identify the reason for his admission to hospital, nor does it identify a precise location of where he was “killed in action” on 13 September 1918. Inevitably it cannot record a date of discharge from the Territorial Army but rather that Alfred “Became non-effective by death.”

Alfred was killed during the Battles of the Hindenburg Line, a series of large scale offensive operations between 12 September and 12 October to advance to and break the Hindenburg Line.

The first of the battles was the Battle of Havrincourt, south west of Bourlon Wood and some 20 kms north of Villers-Faucon, on 12 September 1918. Although not falling within its front, the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division was specifically invited to take part because of its previous performance in the capture of Havrincourt in 1917 on the way to Bourlon Wood. The town was recaptured on 12 September and a counter attack the next day by the Germans was successfully repulsed.

Following its attack at Moislains on 2 to 3 September, the 74th Division, part of III Corps, took part in the Corps advance on 6 September to pass through Templeaux-la-Fosse and Longavesnes, moving west to east some few kms south of Villers-Faucon, to reach a position west of Templeux-le-Guerard on 12 September. Alfred was killed the next day. The Division continued on to fight in the second of the battles, the Battle of Epehy on 18 September, as did the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division.

The pivotal battle was the Battle of St Quentin Canal from 29 September to 2 October which achieved its objective of the first full breach of the Hindenburg Line at one of its most heavily defended stretches. Together with other attacks along the Line this success convinced the German High Command that there was little hope of an ultimate German victory.


The Bedford Bard’s Chair

The website was recently visited by a lady who had been searching for information about the chaired Bard at the Eisteddfod held for the Welsh troops in Bedford in April 1916.

She knew that the bardic chair had been won by Private A Jenkins of the 2/1st WCCS, Royal Army Medical Corps. And the website was able to enlighten her that Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins BA from Ardwyn and Presbyterian Minister at Pencoed, had won the bardic chair with his poem on “A Soldier’s Life”.

But why was this lady interested in Alfred? It transpired that as young Welsh exiles in England some decades ago, she and her husband had discovered and bought Alfred’s bardic chair in an antique shop in Kent, and over the years had wondered about the man who had won it.

She is back in Wales now, re-learning Welsh and writing her own poetry with some success. And knowing much more now about the Bedford Eisteddfod and the man who won the bardic chair which is today, more than 100 years later, a treasured possession of her family.

Two questions: how did Alfred’s chair find its way to an antique shop in Kent? And has a little of the chair’s poetic magic rubbed off on this Welsh lady?!

A bardic chair, specially designed and made for the chaired bard of an Eisteddfod, is awarded to the winning entrant in the competition for the awdl, a long poem written in a strict metre form known as cynghanedd, a complex system of alliteration and internal rhyme.

Alfred’s bardic chair was described as a “handsome Jacobean chair” in the full report on the Eisteddfod in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 28 April 1916. Could it have been designed and made in and brought from Wales, or might it have been designed and made in Bedford, if so by whom? Or in those difficult times was it perhaps a “handsome” chair in the town that was readily available?

Thank you to the lady from Wales for these photographs of the chair and the engraved plaque on it which reads:

PTE A. Jenkins
Chaired Bard
Bedford Eisteddfod
Easter Monday




which with her story add movingly to the history on the website of the Bedford Eisteddfod and Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins, the chaired Bard.


Unhappy Herefords

Soldiers then stationed at bases in Britain were not always treated kindly when home on leave, as this letter published in the Hereford Times in January 1916 from two unhappy privates in the 2/1st Herefords, part of the 205th (2nd Welsh Border) Brigade in the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division stationed in Bedford, describes:


The previous month, Lieutenant-Colonel Percy B Ford, Commanding 2/3rd Monmouthshire Regiment, also part of the 205th (2nd Welsh Border) Brigade, had written on 22 December from the Battalion Headquarters in Bedford to the Editor of the Abergavenny Chronicle (published on 24 December 1915) as follows: ‘Sir – In consequence of all kinds of extraordinary rumours floating about Abergavenny, will you kindly give me the courtesy of your columns to state, for the benefit of all concerned, that every officer, NCO and man on the strength of this battalion has accepted, and signed, the Imperial service agreement, and is liable to be sent overseas at any moment. I wish to make this statement in consequence of information received by a member of this battalion who has recently been to Abergavenny on leave.’

Hearty church services

The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 12 November 1915 included an article from the Rev Ben Jones who had been invited by the Senior Chaplain, the Rev T H Richards MA, vicar of Clynnog, to address the soldiers of the Welsh Army stationed at Bedford. The morning service was held in St Paul’s church, capable of holding 1,100 people. Crowded chiefly with the Cheshires and Herefords, it was a sight never to be forgotten to witness the sea of brave faces in every corner of the church, and all so devoutly joining in the service. In the afternoon a short service was held in the hospital.

In the evening Rev Jones attended the Welsh service in St Cuthbert’s Hall, where a good muster of Welshmen had come together to worship in their native tongue. The service was conducted by Chaplain Hughes (late of Carnarvon). The lessons were read by General Mainwaring in English and Colonel Jones Roberts (of Penygroes) in Welsh. A solo was rendered by Private Llewelyn Jones (Llew Colwyn) ‘The Sailor’s Grave’, and the accompanist was Bandsman Owen Evans of Dinorwic. Colonel Jones Roberts was very popular with the men of the Division, who were mostly Welshmen and he and Mrs Jones Roberts saw that they got every comfort possible.

Several services were conducted in English and Welsh during the day in different churches, besides the services held by the Non-conformist chaplains. On Sunday evenings and one week-night, Chaplain J T Phillips trains a large male voice choir at St Cuthbert’s Hall.

One day, Rev Jones visited Kempston where the artillery men were stationed and came across Captain Savage, of Bangor, Sergeant- Fitter Moses David Jones, of St Ann’s, and Gunner Pritchard, of Glanogwen.

Bigamy in Bedford

On Wednesday, 16 August 1916 at the Bedford Borough Sessions Annie Tully, aged 20 years, of Union Street, Bedford, was charged with bigamy. Annie confessed to marrying Private Herbert Parry whilst her husband, Charles Tully, was alive.

Annie had married Tully on 14 March 1914 in Llanelly, Monmouthshire, yet two years later on 2 August 1916 she married Parry of the 2/1st Brecknocks at Trinity Church, Bedford. Parry was billeted at 72 Chaucer Road, two streets away from where Annie lived in Union Street.

However, on 7 August 1916 Annie turned herself in at the Police Station saying ‘I have come down to admit that I have committed bigamy. I want to get it over.’ She was charged and cautioned and then made and signed a statement in which she said that Tully had ‘knocked her about’ three days after they were married and also about seven months later during her pregnancy, and her baby had been born dead that night . Annie left him the next morning, taking the bed sheets to pay for lodgings.

Some weeks later Tully had begged her to return and she did. But the night she returned he swore to throw her in the canal. She left him again and had not seen him since January 1915.

Parry testified that he had known Annie for about two years, so it would seem they had met not long after Annie married Tully. It is possible that Annie met Parry when his regiment was formed in Brecon, Monmouthshire, in September 1914 and that she followed him and the regiment to Bedford in 1915. It would be quite a coincidence if they happened to be from the same part of Wales and ended up a few streets from each other in Bedford.

Annie was committed for trial at the next Bedfordshire Assizes.

Chaucer Road, Bedford c1910 (Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service ref Z1306/10/12/1)
Chaucer Road, Bedford c1910
(Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service ref Z1306/10/12/1)



The Great Storm of 1916

Storms have names now and in recent months have been battering the United Kingdom with monotonous regularity.

One hundred years ago an anonymous storm raged over the country on 27 and 28 March 1916, the ‘Great Blizzard’ said the Bedfordshire Times and Independent in its headline. ‘Gusty Boreas had his fling on Monday night and Tuesday’, readers were informed, ‘and wrought havoc over all the country.’

The reporter was even moved to quote Virgil ‘Ac venti, velut agmine facto, qua data porta runt, et terras turbine perflant’* which you don’t come across too often today in weather reports.

According to the paper ‘Biddenham felt the full force of the gale. Many houses were flooded out, and about 150 large elm and fir trees were blown down. Telegraph wires lay in all directions along the Bedford Road. The watercourse has overflowed its banks, and inundated a large area near Queen’s Park schools, and the allotment holders in Cox Pits expected a big flood.’

Villager Albert Church, a schoolboy in 1916, recalled the aftermath of the storm in his 1979 memoirs. Soldiers billeted in the village at the time (who would have been from the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division) provided manpower and horses to cut up and shift the fallen trees, work which took days. The children were sent home from school after one of two elm trees next to the school blew down, just missing the school playground. Nothing could get in or out of the village by road and farmers had to go through fields with their pony and float to get the milk to market. Albert said how lucky villagers were to have a shop and a baker in the village.

(Soldiers from the Division helped clear up the debris left by the storm in other Bedfordshire villages, and may have helped too in Bedford itself.)

The newspaper lamented the lack of night-time illumination in the town ‘Belated wayfarers were almost blinded by the blizzard on Monday night, and the weather was then pronounced, by those who experienced it, the worst they had ever experienced, but it might have been a little more endurable in the streets of Bedford if the lamps had been lighted as they might very well have been for all the risk there was of air-raid, where no air-craft could have lived for ten minutes.’

If Monday night had been bad, Tuesday was worse. From two o’clock on Tuesday afternoon the rain, which had taken over from Monday’s snow, turned into another snowstorm which ‘developed into a hurricane of well nigh unparalleled violence in this country’ and although the snowstorm subsided by six o’clock the ‘boisterous wind’ continued until about nine. ‘An alarming experience was the crash of falling trees on the Embankment and in St Peter’s.’

As well as the felling of trees and telegraph poles and wires, there was widespread damage to buildings, and ‘One driver of a M.R. van tells the story of how the blast caught him and his horse and van on the Embankment, and when it had done with them he found his horse trotting in the opposite direction!’

Rail travel was affected with snowdrifts of four feet deep reported between Bedford and Northampton and up to ten feet deep at the side of the track.

‘At quite an early hour’ the newspaper said ‘large numbers of wood-pickers, not woodpeckers, arrived in Newnham Lane, and prams, mail-carts, bags and baskets were soon filled with twigs and heavier portions of the fallen trees.’ “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any wood” the reporter commented.

The newspaper reported extensively on the damage and deaths across Bedfordshire from the storm. This was, however, not the first storm of 1916 for the newspaper added that ‘Tuesday afternoon’s storm laid low even trees which the violent hurricane of New Year’s Day had spared.’

In its next edition, on 7 April, the newspaper printed several photographs of the damage, taken on the morning of 28 March. The featured picture above shows wood-picking children in Newnham Lane out to ‘keep the home fires burning’ and the picture below shows four fallen poplars on the Embankment:

The Great Storm 1

*Translations have moved with the times:

‘The winds, as in a formed battalion, rush forth at every vent, and scour over the lands in giddy whirls’ or if you prefer:

‘And the wind, just as when a battle line has been made, where any door was given, they rush and blow over the land in a whirlwind’ or, if you can remember your Latin, try your own!

A Christmas treat for the Welsh troops at Bedford

In the second week of January 1916  thousands of soldiers of the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division were given a Christmas treat by the town of Bedford where the Division was stationed.

Over four nights,  Tuesday, 11 January to Friday, 14 January, some 2,000 men were entertained each night in the Bedford Castle Rink and some 600 men each night in the Corn Exchange, with other troops from the Division being entertained in Kempston on the Thursday and Friday nights, and in St Neots on the Wednesday night.

The treat was organised by the Bedford Borough Recreation Committee which, Bedford being only a small community, had appealed to the troops’ home communities in Wales and elsewhere for funds to help provide the treat.  All the labour was voluntary with between 300 and 400 townspeople helping out with what was a substantial undertaking for the town. Each entertainment began at 6.45 pm and finished at 9.30 pm, and on the Tuesday evening at the Castle Rink the ‘ladies were still making sandwiches at 6.30 pm.’

Refreshments and entertainment were provided each night, including ‘a first-class variety concert with artistes engaged from London, and a fresh programme each evening’.

Mr Herbert Trustram Eve in proposing a toast to the Division in the Corn Exchange on the Tuesday evening said that this was the third division that had been in Bedford. Bedford wanted them to stop as long as they ought to, but when they went they wanted another division and another division. They never wanted to be without troops in Bedford during the war, because they liked to entertain them and make them as happy as they could.

There is a full report of the treat, including descriptions of the entertainment, the rousing speeches, the appeal for funds, and the units present at each venue.



Room for the troops in Biddenham

One hundred years ago a farm barn in Biddenham, near Bedford, was converted into a new canteen and recreation room for the troops of the Great War, and its formal opening on Friday, 17 December 1915 was reported in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 24 December. When the war was over, the transformation of the former barn continued becoming eventually the Biddenham village hall villagers know and cherish today.

As the paper informed its readers, on Friday, 17 December a concert was held in the New Canteen and Recreation Room in Biddenham which was formally opened by Colonel C J Markham, Commanding the 205th Infantry Brigade (the 2nd Welsh Border Brigade and part of the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division). ‘In introducing Colonel Markham, Major Carpenter, Organising Secretary, referred to the generosity of the Trustees of the Biddenham estate, and Mrs Wingfield in the provision and alteration of the building, and the liberality of the tenant, Mr J Evans, who had given up possession of the building without compensation. The Organising Committee consisted of Captain Addie, Mrs Addie, Mrs Carpenter, Mrs Whitworth, Mrs Randall, Mr Herring (Secretary), and Mr Ingram (cashier), and several ladies offered their services as helpers. Gifts in kind had been received from Mr Whitworth (a piano), Mrs Carpenter, Miss Collie, Mrs Markham, Miss Howard, Mrs Spencer, Miss Street, Mrs Randall, etc, while the Bedford Borough Recreation Committee, through Mr Machin, placed at the disposal of the Local Committee many essentials in the way of furniture.

Colonel Markham said the canteen would be highly appreciated by the troops billeted at Biddenham.

An interesting programme was arranged by Miss Norman, those taking part including Miss Turner (Bedford), Lieutenant Markham (5th Northumberland Fusiliers), Misses Spencer, Miss Helen Norman, Mrs Piercy, Miss Joan de Roboek, and Private Knight. The canteen is open to all soldiers between 12 noon and 1.0 pm, and 4.0 pm to 9.0 pm on weekdays, and from 3.0 pm to 9.0 pm on Sundays. Concerts will be given, and sing-songs organised by Messrs Chibnall and King.’

Biddenham village hall, some 100 years after it was converted from a straw barn to be opened as a canteen and recreation room for soldiers billeted in the village
Biddenham village hall, some 100 years after it was converted from a straw barn to be opened as a canteen and recreation room for soldiers billeted in the village